Jasen Weaver – The Voscoville (2018)

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I was introduced to Jasen Weaver by Carmela Rappazzo, who said Jasen was a great bass player. After checking out his debut album The Voscoville, I have to say Carmela is spot on. This is interesting, and a work of great care.

Jasen Weaver started playing double bass aged just 11. He later became part of the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra, and by 13 he was part of his school’s jazz band. At 14, he was accepted into the prestigious New Orleans Center for Creative Arts as a member of the jazz program. Since then, he has made steady inroads to the New Orleans jazz scene and beyond. He has played with many great musicians including Herlin Riley; Jason, Delfeayo, Ellis, Jason and Delfaeyo Marsalis; Wes Anderson; Donald Harrison; Los Hombres Calientes; Stephanie Jordan and many others. He has recorded with Dr. John, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater), the Session, Cliff Hines, Sasha Masakowski and saxophonist Stephen Richard.

Jasen has travelled to the U.K., Japan, Russia, Honduras and Israel to play and continues to be an active member of the New Orleans jazz scene. He has played at clubs including Yoshi’s, Snug Harbor, New Orleans’ Hyatt Regency and festivals like the Newport Jazz Festival, the North Sea Jazz Festival and the Jazz Showcase. Since 2012, he has led his own band, and will be performing at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in May 2018.

The Voscoville begins with “The Resilient” which opens with chordal progressions from the band under which percussion and piano build and a theme is emphasized. The trumpet adds some controlling lines before the sax solo, which is interesting. Weaver’s bass travels the frets and strings, both walking under and adding rhythmic points to support. The piano solos, with support from the rest of the band, include some ear-catching discordant interceptions whilst returning also to the temporal theme. The trumpet solo is simply magnificent, soaring and developing its own major aside over the heavy rhythm section. There are many references here, but not to bop or be-bop. Rather, Jasen Weaver recalls a big band sound, which the rather less than big band number of musicians manage to evoke.

“Ordinance” kicks off with Jasen’s bass marking out a repeated note order, which the rest of the band soon pick up and develop into a theme. The bass is continually emphatic in its reiteration of the same intervals, but with changes. The continual rhythm established by the bass line is the mainstay here, and the percussion and trumpet interludes serve to weave texture around a theme that is returned to again and again – just shy of the point of annoyance.

That’s important and a lesson well learned. There is a point when a repetitive theme or rhythm works its way into your head (which is good), and one when it becomes annoying. Jasen Weaver knows exactly where to pitch his number of repetitive motifs. All good. The piano solo over this motif is a lovely contrast and serves to emphasize the theme, and at the same time distract. The piano then picks up the theme, which is interesting in itself.

“Upfront” is a swingy, well formed and textured number with a very engaging bass solo from Weaver, as well as a more than decent sax interlude with a lovely sliding, glissando working upward to the final third. “Curtains” is laid back, gentle and oh-so big band in style. Melodies pour from the track from different instruments and the interweaving here is really good, with different players emerging from the solid background platform at different times. The sax playing, in particular, is exceptional.

“Alter Ego” begins with the whole band, and soon a rhythmic percussion sets up and the band then take the piece, alter the rhythms, slow down, add texture and a piano and trumpet solo evolve from the foundations. “North” is quirky, starting with some lovely counterpoint rhythms from brass, wood and percussion and the track develops into a walking, slow gait number with some fun and frolics from several solo instruments over a backline which seems to enjoy the gaps as much as the notes. This, too, is important and makes a real difference. It now feels like the band are having some fun. The piano is worth listening for here – not just for the solo but the line right through.

“Uptown Touchdown” is deep, grooved and has a lot going on, including some pretty lines from the trumpet and great discussive, lyrical interruptions form the sax. There is a modern take here and electronics add to the atmosphere. This is a busy, enjoyable and really well-developed track showing different styles from all musicians; it’s immensely welcome, not because the other tracks are not interesting but because it is such a contrast and speaks more of the youth of the players. The drum solo is wonderful.

“Feature Steve” showcases the trumpet, and is a lovely lyrical number over a gently swinging backdrop of bass, piano and percussion. In the second half, the piano takes on the storytelling role of the music and is gorgeous. “Premonition” is a well-developed, jazzy track with an impressive build and fall with brass blasting out over the top at the end. “Can’t Get Me” is fast, frenetic and led by sax at the start, with a steady backdrop line before it all speeds up, becomes very interesting not only with the support but the solo develops and soars – making way for a piano and then trumpet solo before it is brought back down again for a soft landing. Excellent listening.

“Chillin’ In My Robe on New Year’s Day” is oddly named but not so odd in the listening. A gentle, richly textured number, it finds the band working in layers of soundscape. This is interesting and engaging, then definitely chilled with a vibraphone that adds its own atmospheric lines, before a lovely bass solo by Jasen Weaver. The title track to The Voscoville sums up an area or neighborhood well with its changes, and the quirky little characters which work their way into the piece at the hands of the trumpet, sax and the walking rhythm takes you along apace. With a gorgeous solo from sax, trumpet and then a conversation! Beautiful number and probably the highlight track of the album. The beat is off and the sound spot on – both combinations which work for this listener.

“Stompin’ at the Savoy” is a gentler track to finish the album and is redolent of auspicious environs: Steady, steady now, a little trumpet interlude over still a steady beat, nothing too wild. Then comes a flowing, soaring sax solo, which knocks flies off some I have heard recently so adds something just a bit special here. A change, a development, a chord disharmony and we are back to a lovely melody that’s worked out here on sax again. This is answered by trumpet, all the while bass provides a strong support line and piano fills the gaps – not with too much texture, however. Instead, it’s just a little solo. This is the second highlight track if there can be such a thing, but in a gentler mood. Listen for the interaction between the instruments. Wonderful.

Throughout Jasen Weaver’s The Voscoville, there is a sense of history and references to the big band and bop genres within jazz. This is probably because Jasen is steeped in New Orleans music, but also because it is naturally part of his being. There is familiarity in the patterns of band-solo-band full and deeper – but the counterpoint rhythms, interceptions of disharmonic chords on occasion and some absolutely wonderful atonal runs are also indicative of someone who is very aware of more modern jazz themes and uses these to enhance his basics.

There is a familiarity here as you listen, and yet something is happening too which I feel The Voscoville has only just touched on. There is a seriousness to the music, which strikes the listener almost overwhelmingly until the title track and my only – my only – word of advice is I would have put this earlier to break up the intense feeling of the numbers in their current order. However, The Voscoville is full of different flavors and textures and there is some exceptional playing apparent from every band member.

Jasen has the authority and privilege to surround himself with talented and also serious musicians. You can hear Monk, maybe Shorter and definitely NOLA in these tracks. More than that, you hear the heart of a young jazz musician who, if these is his first release of his own composition and arrangements, we are definitely going to be hearing more of. Carmela was right – Jasen Weaver is a great bass player. I would add to that, from what little I know, he is also an exceptional developing jazz talent.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Sammy Stein
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